United States of America -- Florida -- Miami-Dade County -- Miami
The Vizcaya gardens span over ten acres surrounding the former winter home of the wealthy industrialist and patron of the arts, James Deering (1859-1925). The Vizcaya estate, located in the Coconut Grove area of Miami, was conceived of by Deering and artist and designer Paul Chalfin (1874-1959). Together they traveled extensively through Europe, particularly Italy, to inspire the design for Deering's South Florida retreat. Vizcaya which means "an elevated place" in Basque, was built in the years 1914 to 1916, and transformed a jungle tract of land into one of the most celebrated houses on the Eastern Seaboard. Diego Suarez (1888-1974), a Columbia-born landscape architect trained in Florence, Italy, was commissioned to create a modern, subtropical interpretation of classical, European Renaissance and Baroque landscape design suited to Miami's climate and terrain. Suarez' extensive knowledge of Italian gardens was combined with a consciousness of architectural design to create a setting for the house.
The garden scheme was divided into various terraces and areas, including a completely walled secret garden, a maze garden, theater garden, pergola garden, and the fountain garden, which features a fountain from the town square of Sutri, Italy. Plants were chosen for their ability to withstand south Florida's climate and pests and combined with native soil and plant materials in designs inspired by gardens seen by Deering and Chalfin on their tours of Italy and France. Varieties of bougainvillea, roses, water lilies, and jasmine were among the flowers found throughout the gardens, along with potted pines and podocarpus, some carefully trimmed in the art of topiary. The gardens were trimmed with hedges and trees and feature decorative walls, balustrades, urns, and sculpture. The areas were supplied with water through designed elements meant to compliment the garden such as pools, cascades, a frescoed grotto pool, fountains, and a system of canals, which invokes scenes on the waterways of Venice.
Unique among country estates, the gardens of Vizcaya integrated statues, busts, vases and urns that ranged from antiquity to the Renaissance and Baroque periods, as well as modern art from Deering's time into the lush vegetation. As the artistic advisor of the property, Paul Chalfin, acquired artifacts as decoration rather than to create a collection. Garden artworks ranged from antique elements to new sculptural decorations by contemporary artists. The gardens also featured several structures including a Baroque casino (garden house), decorative bridges, a large boathouse with a rooftop garden, and a domed garden house called the Casba. The most celebrated outdoor feature was the Barge by artist Alexander Stirling Calder (1870–1945), located in the water in front of the house. In addition to the house and gardens, the grounds also housed a swimming pool and tennis courts. Over two-thirds of the estate, originally 180 acres of subtropical forest along the shores of Biscayne Bay, remains in its natural state. The untouched hammock, shoreline, and pineland serves as a background for the more formal main gardens and along the drive up to the house. The Vizcaya property was surrounded by a wall with decorative paintings on stone and wrought-iron grills.
The house was designed to take advantage of its location on west shore of Biscayne Bay and each side of the house had a unique relationship with the surrounding grounds with loggias, terraces, arcades, and a partially enclosed swimming pool and, from some rooms, views of the gardens and bay. Architect F. Burrell Hoffman Jr. (1884-1980) was commissioned to design the house in the manner of an Italian Renaissance-style villa. Hoffman adapted traditional Mediterranean architectural elements to the subtropical climate in the palatial 70-room mansion. The beautifully planned interior was designed around an airy garden courtyard with a peripheral gallery, originally open to the sky, that was the heart and primary living space of the home. The house embraced modern conveniences and employed the latest technology of the period with an automated telephone switch board, a central vacuum-cleaning system, central heating, several elevators, generators and a water filtration system. The house also included a billiard room, bowling alley, and smoking room. The interiors were designed by the artistic advisor Paul Chalfin around objects acquired on Deering's travels in period rooms ranging in style from the Renaissance through the Neoclassical. The villa housed entire ceilings, mural paintings, chimney pieces, carved paneling, and doorways removed from foreign palaces along with rare rugs, tapestries, and antique furnishings. A working farm called the "Village" with eleven outbuildings was also located on the estate. These buildings were designed to look like an Italian village by Hoffman to compliment the architecture of the house. The Village included barns, stables, chicken houses, mechanical shops, housing for the staff, and the gate lodge making it nearly self-sufficient. A pumphouse provided water for the flower and vegetable gardens, groves for citrus, pineapple, and other fruits, greenhouses, and a large shade house for delicate plants grown at the Village to supply the mansion.
The estate, mansion, and its interiors were celebrated in magazines of the time. Deering occupied the house for four months each winter season beginning at Christmas in 1916.The whole complex was created for entertaining and recreation and Deering frequently invited family, visitors, and houseguests to the enjoy his estate. After Deering's death in 1925, the estate passed to his brother's children. Some of the acreage was sold off, and in 1952 Dade County purchased the remaining land and house. With donations of art and furniture from the family, the Vizcaya estate, became a decorative arts museum operated by Dade County Park and Recreation Department. The property, including the house, gardens, hammock forest, and Vizcaya Village, was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1994.
Other notable artists who contributed to the house and grounds were: Alexander Stirling Calder (1870-1945), Gaston Lachaise (1882-1935), Robert Chanler (1872-1930), Charles Gary Rumsey (1879-1922), Ettore Pellagatta (1881-1966), Paul Thevenez (1891-1921), and Samuel Yellin (1885-1940).
Persons associated include: James Deering (former owner), F. Burrall Hoffman, Jr. (architect), Paul Chalfin (architect of interiors), Diego Suarez (landscape architect), and Alexander Stirling Calder (sculptor), and Metro Dade County Park & Recreation Department (owner).
National Register of Historic Places, Vizcaya, Miami, Dade County, Florida, National Register #70000181.
Postcards circa 1915-1930.
Also known as Villa Vizcaya, Vizcaya Palace, Vizcaya Museum and Gardens, and the James Deering Estate.
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James Graham & Sons records, 1815, 1821, circa 1896-2011, bulk 1950s-1980s. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.
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